Ireland Must Break Play-Off Curse On Friday The 13th

The Republic of Ireland will need to improve on a bleak play-off record if they are to overcome Bosnia & Herzegovina and reach the finals of Euro 2016 in France.

1966 Despair
The first leg against Bosnia in Zenica will take place on Friday 13th November, 50 years to the week after Ireland’s first play-off experience, which ironically took place in Paris, the venue for next year’s final.

Back then, Eamon Dunphy and Johnny Giles were amongst the starters as Ireland went down to a narrow 1-0 defeat by Spain, denying them a spot at the 1966 World Cup in England.

Now the footballers-turned-pundits will be in the TV studio casting a critical eye over an Ireland side seeking to break the curse of never having beaten a side above them in the world rankings in any play-off in their history.

Further Heartache
It was 30 years since the Spain defeat before the Republic of Ireland endured more play-off misery, when a Patrick Kluivert double at Anfield ensured the Jack Charlton era at the helm ended with a whimper.

There were subsequent defeats to Belgium and Turkey as well as the most infamous of play-off moments, again in Paris when Thierry Henry ‘handed’ teammate William Gallas a simple tap-in earning a himself a dubious spot in Irish sporting folklore.

Encounters against the lower ranked Iran and Estonia remain the only rays of light amidst Ireland’s dull play-off history.

Things won’t get any easier against a Bosnia side who’ve won 5 of their last 6 qualifiers under new manager Mehmed Baždarević, including the recent 2-0 victory over Chris Coleman’s Wales.

Roma duo Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic are the perceived danger men for the Bosnians who have a new found taste for major tournament football having taken part in the World Cup last summer in Brazil.

All is not lost for Martin O’Neill’s men however having only conceded 7 goals in their 10 qualifying games and outscoring their Balkan opponents by 19 to 17. They will miss the suspended John O’Shea and Jon Walters for the first leg with Shane Long also struggling to make the flight after Southampton boss Ronald Koeman confirmed he suffered ankle ligament damage during Ireland’s final qualifier in Poland.

Manager Optimistic
Speaking after yesterday’s draw in Nyon, Martin O’Neill was hopeful of getting a result despite the damaged personnel:

“We need to perform out in Bosnia to make sure that the second game in Dublin means something. We had terrific results against Germany with the draw out in Germany and a home win, because that’s so recent we can draw real confidence from it.”

O’Neill’s words suggest he’ll be more than happy to return to Dublin with a draw and Ireland are currently 11/5 to do just that and rely on a victory in front of the home faithful 3 days later at the Aviva Stadium.

If Ireland can get lucky on Friday the 13th and snatch a draw or better, they will go into the second leg as favourites to book a spot in the finals next summer and return to the country where their play-off history began half a century ago in Paris.